A chill froze Jay’s spine the moment he opened the door and saw Virgil Blue’s silver mask staring back at him.
Virgil Blue sat in their classic cross-legged position on top of a table. Their vacant wheelchair sat in front of them and faced them head-on. Jay found his legs pulling him to the wheelchair. He sat in it and he stared at the Virgil’s mask for a while, and found himself unable to do anything else. His thoughts wandered through the silver mask’s embossed, buggy eyes.
Jay knew he had no strength to take a proper photograph. He finally found will to put his notepad on his thigh and prepare his pen, without shifting his gaze from the mask for an instant. His wrist locked in writing position. Unable to break eye-contact with the mask, he hoped his blind scribbles were legible later.
“I have lucked into a private meeting with Virgil Blue,” Jay wrote. “I am transfixed by their stare. I sense momentous messages behind the mask, lessons from past millennia waiting to be spoken aloud. Even if the grand teacher of teachers says nothing, I am honored to share space with them.”
Jay felt that he had written to the end of the page, but he couldn’t move his hands to turn the notepad over. Instead, he just watched the mask. Jay could have watched the mask for hours.
But then Jay noticed his own reflection in the bulbous silver eyes. The perception of depth in the mask reminded Jay how to focus his vision and operate his facial muscles. He allowed his gaze to stray from the mask. The Virgil’s robes were navy blue and thicker than bedsheets. The Virgil’s sleeves were tucked into one another to hide their hands. The Virgil’s knees were the only body-parts with distinguishable shape underneath the robes, and the thinness and knobbyness of those knees told Jay the Virgil was crumbling like an ancient cathedral.
Jay now found control of his hands, so he turned his notepad to continue writing. “Virgil Blue’s commanding aura cannot be overstated. I wish I could coax even one word from behind the mask, just to return home with a quote.”
He gathered the courage to speak. “Hello, Virgil Blue. My name is Jay. We’ve met before. May I ask you a few questions?”
Virgil Blue did not respond.
Jay recalled Jango Skyy’s lesson on the importance of asking three times. “May I ask you a few questions?”
Virgil Blue did not respond.
“May I ask you a few questions?”
Virgil Blue did not respond. Jay sighed and continued writing. “It seems I must leave without a quote.”
Jay tried to wiggle his toes, but he hadn’t yet recovered enough from Virgil Blue’s indomitable presence. He doodled the silver mask.
Then, on a whim, he wrote “” on the opposite page—two empty quote marks to convey the Virgil’s wordless message.
“Drop the pen.”
Jay dropped the pen. As he did, he saw his empty quote marks had been erased. He looked up, and it seemed Virgil Blue had sat forward imperceptibly.
Jay closed the notepad.
“Chase the truth in your own navel, not mine.”
“I don’t want the truth,” said Jay. “Not anymore.”
“Good. There is no truth here. Shut up.”
“And stop listening, too.”
“My body was born almost two hundred years ago, but my story is much older than that. This story was told to me by the previous Virgil Blue, who heard it from the previous Virgil Blue, who heard it from the previous Virgil Blue, all the way back to the dawn of history. This story concerns the first man, Nemo, after the Biggest Bird declared him the first human Virgil Blue.
“The Biggest Bird gave Nemo the gift of immortality so he might guide the mortal Sheridanians for all time. But Nemo’s students noticed, over centuries, that the old man’s disposition was in decline. While his immortal body remained physically fit, his mind deteriorated every year.
“Nemo’s last students struggled to cope with his peculiar discipline. He had violent outbursts when students answered questions incorrectly—or even when students answered correctly. He enforced strict asceticism, demanding that his students sit with him outdoors in the nude during the coldest winter nights so blankets of frozen fog would descend from the obscured peak and coat them all in icy dew.
“When students complained of frostbite, Nemo would eat the afflicted fingers and toes. He found a taste for flesh, and his final lesson was a barbaric display of depravity: Nemo chased his congregation through the snowy forest pouncing on his slowest students and biting off their fingers at the knuckle, all while raving and ranting.
“It was decided that Nemo should retire as Virgil Blue, and with startling lucidity, Nemo agreed. He passed the title to his only student who still had ten fingers and ten toes. To pass the title, Nemo made a new kind of ceremony for anointing Virgils in which a bird’s egg, with sacred seed inside, was smashed on the temple of the prospective student’s forehead. After the ceremony, Nemo walked through the wall of clouds obscuring the main island’s peak. He has never returned.
“The new Virgil Blue regathered students and returned Sheridan to non-cannibalistic orthodoxy. They were not immortal, but they aged much slower than an ordinary person and therefore served as Virgil Blue for several hundred years. During this time they anointed subordinate Virgils to stabilize the transition when they retired from the rank of Blue.”
The small room was silent for a while.
“Then, one day, the first man Nemo appeared in Virgil Blue’s dreams. In these dreams, Nemo would eat one of the Blue Virgil’s fingers or toes. In subsequent dreams, consumed appendages remained missing. When Virgil Blue ran out of digits, Nemo chewed other extremities. After excruciating years, the Virgil’s dream-body had been totally devoured. Virgil Blue understood their time had come, and they passed the title. They retired into the clouds following their old master. Since then, every Virgil Blue has passed their title when Nemo finished cannibalizing them in the dream-theater. Every Virgil Blue, after retiring, ascends to the cloudy peak.
“Some people dare to trespass on that sacred peak, and such people, just like Nemo and the Blue Virgils, never return. Beyond that, everything these trespassers care about is ruined. Their property burns. Their children die. Their spouses throw themselves into the sea. This is the reason the peak fits as a final resting place for the Blue Virgils: these holiest of holy people have nothing they call their own. As Nemo breaks my bones between his teeth each night, I understand the asceticism he imposes. There is nothing which is mine, physically, mentally, or spiritually. When he finishes gnawing my skullcap, I will lose nothing in crossing the clouds.”
The small room was silent for a while.
“My student Jango Skyy is a masterful Virgil. For his sake, I am the last Virgil Blue. I will not transfer my title to him. Time ends with me. I am Nemo’s last student, and his last victim.”
The small room was silent for a while. Jay did not move or speak.
After almost half an hour, Jay bowed his head, picked up his notepad and pen, and left without a word.